Outbreaks from raw milk continue to pose a public health challenge as the number of illnesses associated with unpasteurized milk and milk products increase. Most recently, Utah Department of Health (UDH) officials are investigating a cluster of illnesses associated with raw milk from Heber Valley Milk in Wasatch County. Nine cases of Salmonella Saintpaul infections have been reported. Consumption dates range from March 20 to August 14, 2016.
While it is either illegal to sell raw milk in some states or heavily restricted and regulated in other states, many states legally permit retailers to sell raw milk and raw milk products. Data shows, however, more outbreaks occur in states where it is legal. Since 2009, more than 400 people have become ill in 30 documented outbreaks associated with raw milk sold by Utah dairies statewide.
Overall, the average number of outbreaks caused by raw milk each year was four times higher in the five years between 2007-2012 than in 1993-2006. Children younger than five years of age accounted for 59% of outbreaks, putting them at higher risk for illness.
Raw milk is not healthier or more nutritious than pasteurized milk. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warns consumers against drinking raw milk. It can be a very efficient home for disease-causing bacteria and other germs. Pasteurization is essential to ensure disease-causing germs have been completely removed, making milk safe for consumption.
Pasteurizing milk does not cause lactose intolerance or allergic reactions. Milk allergies occur in individuals sensitive to milk proteins, regardless if they ingest raw or pasteurized milk. Raw milk cannot kill dangerous pathogens by itself; only the pasteurization process ensures milk is free from disease-causing bacteria. Both the CDC and the Food and Drug Administration are asking public health officials to continue to educate the public and debunk myths about pasteurized milk and milk products.
For those who choose to consume raw milk, it is possible to reduce the risk of illness by following these steps:
- Only buy raw milk from stores or dairies permitted by law to sell it. However, a government permit does not guarantee that raw milk will be free from disease-causing bacteria.
- Keep raw milk and raw milk products refrigerated at or below 40°F.
- Transport milk from the store to home in a cooler with ice packs.
- Do not let raw milk sit out at room temperature.
Young children, pregnant women, the elderly, individuals with weakened or compromised immune systems, and anyone who does not want to become ill should avoid raw milk and raw milk products.